We live in an age of technological paradox. I can hold more music in a pocket-size iPod than I could ever fit in my home CD shelf, stream Internet radio wirelessly on the bus, and instantly download any song I want for a buck, all in an elegant interface. When I want to look up the lyrics to a song, however, I inevitably land at some gaudy, banner-saturated, Google-bait site that stashes ringtone-download links in the chorus.
Early-Web annoyances such as GeoCities, pop-up ads for the X10 surveillance camera, and widespread usage of blink and marquee tags may be dead and gone, but the battle for Internet sanity rages on. There's still plenty in Web 2.0 that's archaic--and annoying.
1. Misleading Links in Downloads Sites
If I visit a downloads site, it's safe to say I'm there because I want to download something. I understand that bandwidth isn't free, so I'm more than happy to indulge whatever obnoxious full-screen Flash ads the site throws at me. (Thankfully, our Downloads library is the notable exception.)
Where I draw the line is at serving ads that consist of nothing but a big 'Download Here' button. That's just cheating.
A typical trip through MegaUpload looks like this: I click the download link, and it takes me to a splash page with a screen-shattering ad. I hover over the blue 'Download' button in the middle for a second. "Aha," I say to myself, "That's an ad. No click for you." I proceed to click the orange 'Download File' button.
Oops--I forgot to enter the CAPTCHA code. Let's try that again. Hey, that's the name of the file I want. I'll click the big 'Download' button, and...no...that said 'Premium download', didn't it? I'm not gonna pay $20 for your stupid monthly subscription, MegaUpload. I'll just click 'Back'. Now where's that download link? Ah, there--it says 'Download link' right above the 'Premium download' button. Click.
Now I'm back at the first page, because I was foolish enough to think that the 'Download link' was actually a download link. CAPTCHA, 'Download File', click. Oh, right: I have to wait 45 seconds to download this stupid file. I don't even remember what I'm downloading now.
2. Embedded-Video Headaches
As of this writing, YouTube is a little more than five years old. That's half a decade we've had to make embedding YouTube videos less of a pain. For starters, let's make it so that whenever I put a YouTube URL in a forum post, e-mail, tweet, or any other text box, it shows up as a video, just as it does in Gmail Chat.
No all-encompassing rules govern how different sites and services handle the full embed codes. Some sites convert a URL to an embedded video, other sites render the embed codes correctly, some sites display the code as text, and other sites don't let you post any code at all. You're unlikely to know what the rules of the game are until after you try to post a clip.
If I absolutely have to copy and paste the embed code, don't make me guess which tags I need to keep and which tags I need to leave for the video to show up correctly.
3. Third-Party Cookies
You probably already knew this: The Man is keeping an eye on your Web activities with "tracking cookies," or little files that identify you across an advertiser's network. That way, ad networks can know what kinds of sites you're visiting and pump the appropriate pitches to your eyeballs. If you didn't know about tracking cookies, you can read up on what they are (and how to block them) in "12 Ways the Tech Industry Is Screwing You."
The easy way to work around the issue is to shut off third-party cookies in your browser entirely. As far as most browsers are concerned, however, undesirable third-party cookies are lumped in with honest-to-goodness useful cookies. Many browser extensions rely on third-party cookies to work, and ever since I blocked third-party cookies, I haven't been able to use any of my Google Calendar extensions in Chrome.
Fortunately, you can sidestep that problem with a cookie whitelist extension. Install the extension, and then check Protect whitelisted cookies and Clear cookies and other site data when I close my browser in Chrome. Afterward, every time you close the browser, Chrome will clear all cookies except the ones you choose to keep.